Dabbling in DNA: Scots Author Annemarie Allan Experiments in Middle-Grade Sci-Fi
Melinda T. Falgoust
"I was born and raised in Edinburgh, but I’m a mongrel really, with bits from Ireland, Poland, Scotland, France…"
So reads the opening quote from Scots author Annemarie Allan on her website. It is a curious choice of self-description, given the nature of her debut novel Hox (Floris Books, 2007). Hox is a science fiction adventure for middle-grade children which explores the mysterious connection between a boy and an animal that takes young Robbie on a perilous journey through the chill of a Highland winter. The link goes far beyond the love of a boy for a pet...and the clandestine group of scientists that are after them will go far beyond ordinary means to get them back...
Twelve-year old Robbie Bruce has a feeling. He can't explain it, really. It's sort of like a radio signal that tunes in and out in his head, depending on which way he turns. When he turns toward the animal house at The Institute where his father works as a scientist, the signal tunes in...loud and clear...NOT ALONE! NOT ALONE AGAIN!
When Robbie starts exploring exactly what is going on at The Institute, he completely disregards the old saying: curiosity killed the cat. But, cats are exactly what his father and the other scientists are trying to keep secret behind the laboratory walls. BIG cats. Two of them. Freya and Baldur are lynxes. As Robbie soon finds out, however, Baldur is no ordinary lynx. He and the golden feline are connected in some way...but how?
When Robbie starts to delve into his murky past, poking his nose through his father's research, eavesdropping on mysterious conversations, he begins to discover that things aren't always what they seem...including himself. Armed only with a name - Stella Loomis - and a stolen keycard, Robbie rescues the two cats and sets off on a harrowing cross-country trek to solve the mystery. Will he find his answers before the scientists find him?
Hox explores the science behind man's connection to his world, how DNA links all living things. "Hox" is a gene that, in its simplest terms, is responsible for how organisms develop. Ms. Allan teases the concept into an easily accessible plot that hints at larger social responsibility - it subtly asks "How much responsibility should man have for his world?".
The story is filled with action, bravery, conviction and science. Perhaps you have a budding young scientist in your house. Let them explore the concept of DNA in this "berry" fun, in-home experiment with scientist Steve Spangler as they learn how to extract the DNA from a strawberry. (Laugh, folks. It's the best pun I could come up with on one cup of coffee.)
Hox is the second winner of the Kelpies Prize, an annual award presented by Floris Books to a middle-grade author of merit. Winners of the competition are published by Floris Books in their Kelpies line. Other past winners have included Mike Nicholson for his quirky mystery Catscape (formerly featured on this blog), Sharon Tregenza for Tarantula Tide, and several others. If you happen to have a middle-grade novel that been collecting dust in the top drawer of your desk, perhaps you'd like to dust it off, give it a little polish and submit it to the 2014 Kelpies Prize Competition.
And, if you're feeling especially fortunate, take a chance at winning your own copy of Hox along with a super science kit of your very own. Light a lightbulb with a lemon, or let loose some lava with your own table-top volcano with a win from the rafflecopter giveaway below! And as always, happy reading!